Today I wanted to tell you about the mission and purpose of this swap. It took me some time to figure out that I even had one! I did, and it was there all along, but I didn’t really know it. And then, I had it in my mind for years now, but I’ve never articulated it full blast. So here we go
Every so often, someone will write to me about the Card Deck Swap, with a request for certain changes, certain rules to be instilled, or even a complaint. Over the years I’ve taken in these complaints and suggestions and realized that there is a pattern, a pattern in what the people might be wanting, and a pattern in why I continue to say No to the suggestions, or wish someone well when they declare that they won’t participate unless I raise my “standards.”
The pattern of suggestions and complaints turns out to be that people want more strict rules, and structure on who can participate, and on how the cards are made. The pattern I discovered in my answers turns out to be more than a pattern, it turns out to have illuminated my mission with this swap.
You may have read the story of how the swap started, and if so, you’ll know that it was serendipitous, but it was also done on a whim. I didn’t have a “mission” or even a plan (hell, I didn’t even know what a “swap” was, and I had never even heard the term “ATC” for the first two years I ran the swap!).
However, it turns out that very quickly people began to have opinions on how the swap was run, and that meant that I began to actually have an opinion on why and how my own swap was run! Slowly, and organically, I began to unearth a mission around this experience from within me.
Often, the requests were for more “formality” to the cards. If you’ve ever written me about this, trust me, I appreciated the input. I know you weren’t complaining, but rather, coming from this world of “ATCs” in which there are rules! But, let me tell you, I did not know the term (or the world of) ATC when I started this swap. I had no idea (for maybe two years while I ran the swap!) that there was an entire genre of art made this size, and swapped with rigid rules on size, signing your name, numbering and so forth. But a lot of people did, and they would write and ask for me to make a rule that everyone in the swap follow these same guidelines.
I decided to say No to these requests for this consistent size etc. Since I am not a standard “ATC” creator myself, it hardly made sense to ask this of the participants! But more than that, I realize, I want the creation aspect of THIS experience to be wide open. Yes, I encourage people to add their names and locations. Yes, it’s nice when all the cards are the same size, because a lot of us want to put them in a pretty box (and big cards don’t fit, little ones get lost etc etc). However, I won’t make size a rule. I won’t make signing your name, or numbering them a rule. There are other places you, or we, can have that consistency. But for this space, I don’t ever want to prevent someone from their cards being sent on. I’ve only ever refused to send a deck on ONE time, and friends, they just sent a deck of cards (with no art!), so I felt justified :).
Another participant asked me to not allow children to participate.
I believe, as a parent, hello, that it’s downright BAD KARMA to refuse a child who wants to make art. I can be grumpy and tired and in desperate need of solitude, but if my child asks me to paint with him, I am ON IT.
It’s not just art – making, but if the children of the world are denied participation around things that interest and move them, it hurts them, and it stifles their growth.Those kids become the adults who are aching for creative fulfillment, like I once was. So children are always allowed, and maybe one day I’ll do a full on CHILD ONLY swap for that very reason!
Another time, one woman wrote to me to say that she “would gladly participate, and will, when you stop allowing bad art and raise the standards of the art. It’s not fair that some of us put a lot of detailed work in, and then someone just swipes paint across and sends their cards in.”
I wished the woman well, and let her know that I would not be putting a parameter on the quality of the art.
I sat with her assessment for a few days and reflected. It’s true that the “quality” of art ranges ALL across the board in this swap. Well guess what, when I reflected on this very fact, I had my first epiphany: That’s not what this swap is about!
This woman’s complaint allowed me to realize that it’s my swap, and I get to say what the point is, and why we’re here (and for that, I thank her!). So if I haven’t articulated it before, or I haven’t shared it yet, let me do so now:
This swap is about OPENNESS. It’s about INCLUSION. But most of all, it’s about POSSIBILITY. This means that I will not refuse ANYONE. Including children. Even men
I absolutely love when really skillful artists participate (because I’m not that, and I get to have some of their art in my home!). I realized early on that it was FUN for me to invite newbies, people who were relatively new to crafting and creating, and especially people who were unsure or self doubting about their ability to make art. I began to see that I loved to convince these people to join, because I truly believe that a creative practice can be life changing, but most of all, that if there were ANY people out there in the world who feel somewhere inside that they want to make art, or be creative on some level, but who AREN’T yet because of this self doubt, that I wanted to make sure I could provide at least one safe place in the art world where these people could try to get past this blockage. So the swap became the arena in which I could make sure that I could provide people a safe place to explore and “try.”
It’s also sort of ridiculous to say that I, me, could somehow draw the line at what level or ability of art is worthy of inclusion, and which is not! That’s certainly arbitrary, and my role here is not of a judge, but of a hostess. There are plenty of spaces and experiences where you can find juried entry and ensure that everyone involved is a high level artist. This isn’t that space. What kind of art you make, or how “good” it is (again, arbitrary and subjective!) is not the point of THIS swap. This space is for all to EXPLORE in safety and in fun. I love to be amazed and impressed by the art that is submitted, but that is absolutely SECONDARY.
So let me repeat that. Participation and community is the goal. Quality and skill level of the art involved is simply a facet. One to be appreciated, at all levels, because we are ALL START SOMEWHERE.
Along these lines, I’ve also realized that there is an amazing benefit to having artists of so many skill levels participating in the same space. I’m sensitive, so trust me, I GET that it can be intimidating. I get that it can trigger some inner critic voices when we see others who are making much “better” or more evolved pieces of art. Trust me, I get it :). What I’m good at, is talking people out of that place. Which I happen to love doing, and this swap also lets me do that – help people get over those icky voices. The truth is, we’re all just somewhere along the way in our skills, abilities and journey. Even the people making professional-quality cards actually look up to someone else somewhere and think, ‘I wish I was that good.”
Since that’s the case, I like to use the swap as a challenge. A challenge to my own self, and all of us participants, to sit with where we are now, and to work on those inner voices. And it’s also an opportunity to see some work that inspires us. I hope this experience can be one where, when we consciously look at the art involved in each deck, we see things that we want to LEARN and TRY, and this moves our creativity forward. That’s what I do, every single time. I go back to the cards, find ones that inspire me, and try to imitate styles and learn techniques.
This swap can be the place where we shift away from self-criticism and move towards inspired learning and action.
So, now you know. If you have any other suggestions or complaints, by all means, please write! Don’t hesitate. I’ve always thanked those who do, because sometimes there is something I haven’t thought of. And I always want to know what could be improved. But I hope that this has illuminated for everyone what the purpose of this space and this unique art challenge is. It took me a little time to figure it out myself, but now that I know, this is my purpose here, I want to share it with you.